Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Now, This Strange Effect

It's time to teach my child about value and resources. We need to leave for work and school in the morning, minding the constant clock. The time can be spent on procrastination, or on the tasks at hand. We use cotton balls that progressively disappear, because she can't quite wrap her mind around the abstraction of 7:30 yet. She's learning that the present must sometimes be spent on the future. It is the beginning of the death of childhood: a death which is, like all deaths, death. But also it is the beginning of freedom, of agency, of life.

Of this pick, Frances said, "I picked this because it has a sheep without... I mean, a cow without a head." Does it ever! This confounding piece is all experience, all surface. What appears to have happened is that the record store I got it from (it's been 20 years now, and the early 90s are hazy, but I know I was mostly shopping at Mystery Train and In Your Ear in Harvard Square back then. The object is not inconsistent with their vibe. I also may have gotten it that one time I went to RRRecords in Lowell) had this amazing object, a 78rpm disc with a handwritten label identifying the musical group as "De Zingende Miljonairs" (that's Dutch for The Singing Millionaires, right? Or German?) and they just went on and blammed out this mind-scramble of a cover.

So yes, headless cow. The "title": "Disco Music". Also: "Met de Hit Bookhit" (for years and years I said it in my head as "book shit" - no idea why my brain saw that). The back ups the drama: "Now this strange effect: This stereo album can also not be played". The cherry on top: they did it on a Santana cover turned inside out (Borboletta, the one with the shiny blue butterfly cover).

It's true, by the way: I can't play it. Technology has moved on and I don't have a turntable that goes to 78, or a stylus that won't damage the surface. Those singing Euro-millionaires are tantalizing me just out of reach.

(It's not true that it's stereo, or that it's an album. But: art confounds.)

About a year ago, I read this piece by Natalie Hopkinson taking off from Paulo Nazareth's work "Banana Market/Art Market" at the 2011 Art Basel Miami Beach show (the money quote: "Sounds like a lot of bullshit to me"). We do a lot of hand-wringing, as a culture, over the unholy coupling of art and hedge-fund managers, the outsourcing of decisions about the value of experience.

To me, it seems that a key aspect of the issue is an over-reliance on received opinion. Gnarly too, and intimately bound up in this problem, is the conflation of monetary value with experiential value, and this is the aspect of the problem that I've witnessed from the front row, via record stores (speaking of which, I just love this whole tumblr, and this particular post really captures the experience of running a store and buying used records from people better than almost anything I've ever read). Look: records are perfect. Like anything that's pefect, they are misunderstood, and sometimes, people over- or undervalue this or that aspect of their perfection. They deliver music. People love music. Before there were "easier" ways to get music, that was a pillar of their value. Now, us record lovers find other excuses to charge insane prices, like:

They deliver beauty.

They deliver documentation.

They confer status.

I mean, these are convincing arguments.

So many things that records do, in only that one particular way. Beware though, lest you tie up too much of your own self-worth in whatever value you perceive these things to have. Value is slippery, intangible. In this absurd time, art can be a sounder investment than the stock market.

As the eternal moment continues to unfold, your task remains: what do you want to do? You can experience your life, or you can store up that experience for future use. You can model your experience on that of others, or you can decide that the activities you want to do are worth doing.

Look out for the free market: it will fill you with anxiety so you have no choice but to store for the future. One never knows when want will strike. In giving you this anxiety, the free market will deprive you of present experience.

A sheep without... I mean, a cow without a head.

Now, this strange effect: this stereo album can also not be played.

The Singing Millionaires.

Disco Music.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Actual Reality

Lucky Dragons came to town last month - on my birthday! - and I didn't know about it!

I think I saw them before. I vaguely remember Luke rolling around on the ground and exhorting everyone to hug and hold hands and stuff. Everyone I know in LA is into loving.

When they came two times ago, two years ago, to Chicago, the Reader's Jessica Hopper did a nice feature on the piece they were touring with, "Make a Baby", a work designed to resist boundaries and definition. A messy work that can't exist in your mind, only in the world. A being:

Every version of "Make a Baby" is unique, determined by the way the audience participates. The performances are nonhierarchical, free-form, and welcoming...

The CD, A Sewing Circle. Uncontrolled sobbing phases in briefly in "Theme from 'Sleep Through Me'". Luke says something like "What's wrong?"

People sometimes think answers are what you need, that what you have is questions. But maybe more asking is more reassuring? Is it? Uncontrolled sadness seems from the outside to require definition; a state away from normal out of bounds. Names and structures.

LD has another piece called Actual Reality.

I’ve had a google alert for the words “actual reality” for several years now, every day receiving an email digest of newly discovered instances of the phrase in context. It is a candid and democratic view of the internet. The term is used by diarists, pundits, analysts, self-help gurus and angry blog-commenters alike, as a lets-get-serious reference to the common background against which imaginary things come together momentarily. Everyone should be able to recognize actual reality, or to compare things against it, to measure when we’ve moved too far from it.

Yeah as truth runs further away now and no fact is apolitical and no politics is factual, peace will come in the form of embracing the questions. Framing the mess. Giving a loving tone to the happening. Too much information is what's gotten us here. Nature is in danger. Artifice is all we can do, by definition.

Actual reality: temps are high, and the month is October. "Fact": it's Indian Summer. Unpack: "climate change"; "Indian". "October": whose calendar?

This is what they say:

lucky dragons are about the birthing of new and temporary creatures--equal-power situations in which audience members cooperate amongst themselves, building up fragile networks held together by such light things as skin contact, unfamiliar language, temporary logic, the spirit of celebration, and things that work but you don't know why.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Bombay the Hard Way

In the late 90s, a friend of mine produced a cassette mix of Hindi film music, featuring classic item numbers and songs by heavy hitters like R.D. Burman and his dad S.D., Shankar Jaikishan, Laxmikant Pyarelal, and others. Circulated among our little group of discerning, college-radio-staffing friends, the tape made waves. Tiny waves, but waves. The same friend was the first person who said the name "Lata Mangeshkar" to me, when he told me that she had recorded more songs than anyone else in history. He and another buddy from the same circle had gotten to know this music cause it was cheap and it ruled.

My theory about why it was cheap: it hadn't been contextualized. No one wants music if it's not for them. The hipsters of the West have caught on that Bollywood music rules now, and the prices have shot up. (Those of us who prefer to remain on the cutting edge have had to find other stuff that, by "sucking", is more resistant to cooptation/contextualization/someone convincing everyone that it rules.)

Another young bro, a producer of some renown and not incidentally a record collector, got into Hindi film stuff around the same time for (I would guess) similar reasons. Dan the Automator. A year or two after I had got the mixtape from my friend, the Automator-produced Bombay the Hard Way: Guns, Cars & Sitars showed up. I got it because it seemed the obvious thing to do: the documentation and validation of my mini-trend's "thing" status had arrived.

The thing about this record is, it sucks. The title, cover art and song titles ("Fists of Curry", "Swami Safari") reek of orientalist hipster-racist bullshit. The music is boring: stripped of the song-craft, arranging genius, and dramatic motion that make the Hindi film music genre so astonishing and compelling; in their place, a crass exploitation of otherness, Indian-flavored incidental music from action films broken down and reconstructed for maximum ambience, smoothed over with pointless drums and electronic post-production. What a mess!

I dunno. Am I being too hard on the record? Here's what DJ Shadow says about it:

The marketing campaign for this Dan the Automator remix project implied massive DJ Shadow involvement, which was far from the case; Shadow played drums for 30 minutes one day in the studio, elements of which were resampled and applied to various tracks. Shadow was dismayed by the record company's blatant exploitation of his name, and distanced himself from the project.


What's funny about all this is that the record is kind of about exploitation. The liner notes:

India's answer to our action movie was dubbed the "Masala" ("mixed spice") film - creating its own unique blend of "Brownsploitation". Almost overnight, the predictable family drama formula gave way to movies filled with Kung-fu, gunfights, car chases, loose women, badass dudes in smoke-filled opium dens...

In reality, Bollywood was controlled by gangsters who acted as loan sharks to producers and directors who couldn't get bank loans. In effect, they used the film industry as a cover-up for their money laundering schemes. If that wasn't enough, these thugs would hang around the set, muscle in on writing meetings and demand that certain changes be made in the script to make the on-screen gangsters more like their real-life counterparts.

Hell, if we're gonna throw around the charge, the blog you're reading is an exploitation-fest too. I'm exploiting the coolness of the records in my collection (and the people who made them) - not to mention my daughter's cuteness. Sorry about that!

Wait, was there a point? I guess yeah. Context is everything. Appropriate with respect, please.

Postscript. When we did the photo shoot for this post, Frances was fascinated with the images from Hindu mythology. We're gonna look for some books now. Vishnu eventually prevails over crass misappropriation, apparently.

Friday, October 12, 2012


Here's what I think about lotus, without help from the internet: there's something about forgetfulness, and something erotic. There's lotus position, lotus eaters, and flying lotus. It's a flower.

I have two CDs of screaming and screeching, heavy on the sawtooth, with the occasional chugga guitar sample. The LOTUS. The one I have on is Garbage In, LOTUS Out.

Silver Spring, motherfucker!

What I'd really like to get across is how awesomely well the guy from the LOTUS (Keith or Mat? Both maybe?) can screech. I mean if screeching was regarded highly in our society, this band would be at the top of the charts. It's like this:



That's right. And bloopa lines on the burble-synth, and so many sawtooths and squares. It's a harsh ride, this CD. Also it's 17 minutes long so I can just put it on. It's not trying to put me on.

There's so much I could be doing. So many CDs I could be listening to. So many meals I could be eating. So many buses I could be missing. Streets to walk down, awkward interactions to sit through, fried food, beer, wine, dirt to get under my nails. Seventeen minutes of yyeeeeeaaaaaarrrrrrrrrhhhhhhhhhhhggggaaaaa! instead. Why? Why me?

"Sometimes I just need to..."

I saw this one band play called Reptile, and the deal was that they were lizards. They sang about eating humans and moved around all twitchy. The guy from Reptile is in The LOTUS too.

This: what matters to a lizard? Does a lizard make decisions? Harsh reality, man. We've got to live or die. Confront your body.

The variety of our experience is infinite in its potential, shockingly limited in its reality. Every second is another decision. We can't hold it. Mind blown, again and again. Ten years on my shelf, seventeen minutes in my ears. Ten times that time to make it. A billion records and they all took time to make. Frozen experience. Something erotic, something forgotten, a flower.

You can possess but you can't own. It will all go away. It will all melt. "Sometimes I just need to..."


So I mean if that's what you need, this is where it is.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Wall

If you do art, there's a wall around you. If you're a person at all (you know who you are), there's a wall around you. You're inside, then there's a layer of meat around that, some number of molcules of air, and then there's other people and the world. The wall is meat and air. The you that's inside is a pathetic scared little blob of a kidney bean thingy, if we are to believe the artists who have made art about tearing down the wall.

Captain Beefheart's always been a favorite, ever since I found Lick My Decals Off, Baby in the same stack of records with Maggot Brain and Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow in the basement of these kids' house that I used to babysit for when I was a teenager. (That was a seminal stack for me. The same story even came up in my blog before. 1985, 6, around then. They were the kids' dad's records. There was a bunch of other less exciting stuff in there too, Santana, the Dead, shit like that. When I asked him about it, he played it off all cool: "Oh yeah man, when I was in college in San Francisco those were all just bands that would be playing up the street and we would go see them all the time." Heh.)

Beefheart, what a weirdo. Pseudonyms like "The Mascara Snake". Wearing tuxedos on more than one album cover. That trout mask. It looked cool but it functioned too: firewall erection. 16-year-old me had no fucking clue what was going on there. Art foregrounded.

All of us scared little kidney bean embryo thingies being all sad and desirous and paranoid and embarrassed, if we have to do art maybe we must make a wall of it and act all weird and geniusy.

The other thing about Beefheart is the sex. That tape bit on Trout Mask Replica where he's talking to this young lady and he proclaims "The name of the composition is 'Neon Meate Dream of an Octafish'." [pause, lights match] "No it's 'Hair Pie'." So awesome! Sex is meat and the reduction of the amount of air between you and the next person. No wonder a dude with some privacy issues might want a weirdness wall. Blunts the impact of the feelings. When you connect the wall is a medium.

Serious. Art. With jokes. But they are "jokes". They push as they pull.

People just try and try to tear down the walls though. If there's a wall people need to know what's on the other side. Famous people get deconstructed and re-explained as a matter of cultural course. If we connect through that art wall, it looks like magic and we want to know how a human could have done it. As if magic wasn't something we could do just by breathing and feeling a leaf. (It is.) There's such a premium on peeks behind the firewall - a glimpse of the artistic process. It's the reverse of how we love to watch accidents and find out how people died and know the details of tragedies. Cause maybe knowing all the details we can figure out how to avoid losing our limbs or whatever it was that happened to the poor bastard. If you see the artistic process laid bare, you prove it's not magic. You kill it.

That's what we little scared embryo beans love to do. Kill. Kill for peace.

Grow Fins is this amazingly lovingly produced box set from 1999 that kills. I got the vinyl version, three double-LP sets with a big book. If you were wondering anything about the artistic process, or you wanted some Beefheart pornography, extreme closeups of his head-vagina as your pathetic little embryo-self just pumped away at it, this is the box set you need. Tons of interviews with all the other guys he played with from coming up all the way through. Dudes from the desert from the Sixties, coming up on blues and doing acid and just living through the Nixon administration and all that stuff. Playing high school dances. Ry Cooder. Taj Mahal. If you weren't sure Beefheart was a real person, this will set the record straight. Everyone calls him Don.

("Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band" was a band at the start, and Don was the singer. He wasn't Captain Beefheart. Like how Debbie Harry wasn't Blondie.)

Frances chose just one volume of the set for me to dig into, Grow Fins Vol. II: Trout Mask House Sessions. On this one, it's most of the material from his most iconic record but without him singing, plus a bunch of other detritus from the same sessions that doesn't qualify as "outtakes" because a lot of it is literally just silence as the tape machine on the porch runs and the band plays inside. There's like ten or twelve minutes of silence on this thing. Also the last ten minutes or so are this conversation with an older lady who lived near them. Yeah. A Sixties California lady. So amazing. They ask what music she likes and she says Herb Alpert and Don is all, "Oh he can't play. All those horn parts are someone else."

That's pretty awesome, but my favorite part is the fully contextualized version of the excerpted flirtation I mentioned above. You totally get to hear Don hitting on this young lady. He says "Where'd you move here from?" and she says "Reseda".

"Reseda?" [pause] "She's nice."

Flirty Beefheart! "It's a bush recording."

"No it's Hair Pie."

I'm a fan. I don't have the same burning desire to see the artistic process stripped bare that I used to though. The more I live the more I can infer the pathetic little fuckers behind the erected walls. A lot's been made, among those to whom it matters, of Beefheart's 1982 retirement from music, people begging and pleading and whining about their deprivation. People treat artists like servants! Sometimes people's entitlement really pisses me off. Like someone made a great record and then they somehow owe you an explanation of why their new record sucks or why they just don't make records anymore.

People: Don had MS! Leave him the fuck alone!

(Also: it's none of your goddamned business why Lauryn Hill doesn't make records. Maybe she actually does hate you. Personally. Maybe Dave Chappelle hates you too. I don't blame them for all the sexist racist shit you always say about them.)

I actually enjoy this double set more than Trout Mask Replica. It engages me more. Trout Mask always leaves me a little indifferent. The interweaving interlocking interstruments and the way it sounds like each composition is actually three different songs at the same time. It seems like it's gonna be so awesome but it's somehow too awesome, too perfect, too fucking amazing, there's no subtlety. I want more ten-minute silences, more dirty locked groove swamp funk, more jokes and less "jokes". So. Tear down the wall.